Greek, Israeli aircraft help battle huge Cyprus forest fire

AP News
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Posted: Jun 20, 2016 8:57 AM

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A pair of Greek Super Puma helicopters are on their way to join up with 14 Cypriot, Greek and Israeli aircraft to help battle a a large forest fire that continues to rage out of control on the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus that so has far scorched 15 square kilometers (5.8 sq. miles) of trees and countryside, officials said Monday.

Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades said the damage done to a large swath of forest in the mountainous regions southwest of the capital is "irreparable," but nonetheless promised a speedy reforestation program.

He said 66 firefighting vehicles and more than 300 people from the island's Fire Service, Forestry Department, as well as volunteers have been mobilized to fight the blaze that has covered the area with thick plumes of smoke.

"It's truly a tragic situation. ... We're doing all we can to bring the fire under control," said Anastasiades after chairing a meeting of top Fire Service, Police and Interior Ministry officials.

Anastasiades said he has thanked Mustafa Akinci, leader of the ethnically split island's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, for offering help in firefighting efforts, but assistance from Greece, Israel and two British military bases on Cyprus are at the moment enough.

Fire Service Chief Andreas Nicolou told state broadcaster RIK that optimism the fire can soon be brought under control is tempered by high temperatures and shifting winds that are making firefighting efforts difficult.

Deputy Fire Service Operations Chief Marcos Tragkolas, told The Associated Press at least three villages have been partly evacuated as a precautionary measure. He said one firefighter is in critical but stable condition after suffering head injuries when his vehicle overturned in a gully. Another firefighter sustained a broken arm.

Police said a 12-year-old boy is suspected of starting the fire with a lighter near the family's holiday home.